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How It Was Created – What It Has Become

It was the original intent of the Founding Fathers to carefully limit the areas of responsibility of the federal government. James Madison pointed out that the Constitution was structured so that the powers delegated to the federal government are few. He also pointed out the number of individuals employed will need to be smaller than the number under the State.

Six Areas of Constitutional Responsibility for POTUS

  1. Chief of state over the Nation.
  2. Commander in chief over the military.
  3. The chief executive officer of the whole executive branch of the federal government.
  4. The chief diplomat in handling foreign relations.
  5. The chief architect for needed legislation.
  6. The conscience of the Nation in granting pardons or reprieves when justice requires.


Nineteen Extra-Constitutional Areas of Discretionary Responsibility for POTUS

  1. The responsibility of maintaining full employment for the Nation.
  2. The task of ensuring a high level of agricultural prosperity.
  3. The task of developing a national housing program.
  4. The task of supervising the exclusive distribution of atomic energy resources.
  5. Underwriting mega-bucks in private loans and private insurance programs.
  6. Providing federal relief for the victims of natural disasters.
  7. Administrating a national welfare program.
  8. Administrating a national Medicare and Medicaid program.
  9. Administrating a national social security program.
  10. Allocating mega-bucks for education.
  11. Settling major union labor – management disputes.
  12. Administrating a network of health agencies.
  13. Administrating the EPA.
  14. Administrating nearly 40% of the nation’s land area and resources.
  15. Administrating control over the discovery and development of energy resources.
  16. Regulating of all major United States industries.
  17. Supervising all radio and TV broadcasting required to issuing a license.
  18. Administrating the FDA.
  19. Initiating various federal programs on a regional basis to replace many powers and activities originally reserved sovereign to the States.

Four Major Drawbacks of the aforementioned Central Planning

  1. It is unbelievably expensive.
  2. By its very nature and intended design the federal government is sluggish and inefficient. The Founding Fathers engineered a system of checks and balances to impede changes because they feared a future efficient tyranny.
  3. It places mega-bucks at the disposal of the executive branch which can be and have been used to intimidate both the members of Congress and the Governors of the States.
  4. It is virtually impossible for one human being to effectively administer everything assigned to the POTUS.


The constitutional provision that created the basis for the President’s cabinet

The President may require the opinion, in writing, of the principle officers who superintend the various bureaus and agencies, or other services of the executive department. Such officers shall be required to report to the President any pertinent information he may desire concerning those duties and responsibilities assigned to any office.



In 1789 the cabinet posts created

  1. Department of State appointed Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson
  2. Department of Treasury appointed Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton
  3. Department of War appointed Secretary of War Henry Knox
  4. Office of Attorney General appointed Attorney General Edmund Randolph

The current fifteen cabinet posts and when they got created

  1. The Department of State
  2. Department of Treasury
  3. Department of Defense *In 1947 the Congress formed the National Military Establishment (NME) headed by the Secretary of Defense. The NME combined the Department of War with the Department of Navy (created under J. Adams in 1798) and the Department of Air Force (created under Truman in 1947). In 1949 the NME was renamed the Department of Defense.
  4. Department of Justice *In 1870 under Grant the post-Civil War increase in the amount of litigation involving the United States necessitated the very expensive retention of a large number of private attorneys to handle the workload. A concerned Congress passed the Act to Establish the Department of Justice, setting it up as “an executive department of the government of the United States” with the Attorney General as its head.
  5. Department of Interior *In 1849 under Taylor Congress created Interior and charged it with duties ranging from issuing patents to running Washington’s jail. In 2003 the department even owned Nevada’s Mustang Ranch brothel, prompting Interior Secretary Gale Norton to observe:

    It gives the phrase “Madame Secretary” a whole new meaning.

  6. Department of Agriculture *After lobbying from the U.S. Agricultural Society (1852), Congress established the Department of Agriculture in 1862 (raised to cabinet level in 1889) under B. Harrison.
  7. Department of Commerce *This cabinet level department was first created as the Department of Commerce and Labor under T. Roosevelt in 1903. It split up in 1913 under Wilson as the Department of Commerce.
  8. Department of Labor *In 1913 under Wilson the Department of Labor was split away to be a new cabinet level post.
  9. Department of Health and Human Services *In 1953 Congress created the Department of Health, Education, and welfare under Ike. In 1979 under Carter Congress split away education and HEW was renamed Department of Health and Human Services.
  10. Department of Housing and Urban Development *In 1965, under LBJ, Congress created this agency.
  11. Department of Transportation *In 1967, under LBJ, Congress created the Department of Transportation.
  12. Department of Energy *In 1977, under Carter, Congress created the Department of Energy.
  13. Department of Education *In 1979, under Carter, Congress created the Department of Education.
  14. Department of Veteran Affairs *In 1988, under Reagan, Congress made the Department of Veteran Affairs a cabinet level post.
  15. Department of Homeland Security *In 2002, under George W. Bush, Congress created the Department of Homeland Security in the aftermath of the sneak attack by terrorists on September 11, 2001.

The Founding Fathers designed the office of President to give the President all the power and independence needed to carry out the six specific functions they assigned, but they required the President to operate within a carefully circumscribed sphere of limited authority. It is not true that they wanted a weak executive branch. They did want a strong executive, but with a limited sphere to work in.

The fact that the executive branch has now acquired gigantic dimensions of discretionary power is a matter of the most profound importance to this and all future generations of Americans.

Fortunately, something is built into the Constitution so that any unauthorized usurpation of authority can be dismantled by peaceful means. We the People have the RIGHT to vote into power those who recognize the problem, and are willing to do something about it. History may very well record one day that taking those corrective measures was one of the most important challenges that We the People met.

I wrote this article in July 2009, and the poll question at Unified Patriots has made me revisit what I wrote. I confess, I am one who voted to be rid of the Dept of Energy. I think we could almost reduce back to the original four cabinets. That would definitely limit the sphere for the federal government to work in, but perhaps a little too much for the most powerful nation of the world. Many might disapprove, but I would allow for a fifth cabinet, Health and Human Services. There are many things the federal government can put under the Justice Dept. and Treasury Dept., but the epidemics, pandemics, and caring for veterans who are discharged from the armed services are things for an accountable HHS.

pilgrim
I am retired after 36 years of being a state of Indiana employee. I enjoy writing and reading conservative blogs.

20 COMMENTS

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20 COMMENTS

  1. “…a future efficient tyranny.”
    You hear politicians of all stripes, including Republicans, talk about wanting government to be more efficient. Everybody always nods thier head “Yup! Yup!” no one ever asks ‘efficient at what?” This is going against the grain of the current conservative push, but a lot of people advocate for a ‘businessman’ to be president.
    You have to ask “Is that so he can run government like a business? Does that mean to …..make a profit? Does that mean to …..make it grow? (efficiently, of course!) Does that mean to hire a lot of high-priced ‘experts’ and ‘consultants’?
    Just sayin’.

    • I figured Bob, that you are for getting rid of some federal cabinet secretaries and their departments to boot. Getting rid of them is not so much about efficiency as it is about how they are just too expensive to keep them running.

      • Well, yes, we definitely can’t afford them, but apparently there was a time when we could. That’s why we have them. That and the fact that at the time nobody asked the question “Affordability or not, what is the purpose of government?” On the subject of Departments, I think MiltonFriedman said the original four would be a good number. 🙂

        • They were answering questions that were not publicly expressed. Jackson first made the spoils system a part of the federal government. You help him get elected and he helps you get a nice cushy job in the federal government. This was how the Interior and Agriculture departments came about. Early 20th century progressives Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson believed the establishment can decide correctly better than the individual whether it is about drinking booze or how much control a private business can have paying their laborers or marketing a product. This was how the Commerce and Labor departments came about. Ike had a HEW created after about 18 years of social security entitlement. There were also many medical breakthroughs with vaccines. LBJ and the ‘Great Society’ brought us HUD and transportation, and a new slush fund for the Dems. Jimmy Carter brought us Energy and Education to expand upon the slush fund LBJ started. Reagan brought us Veteran Affairs to appeal to a group of veterans. George W. Bush brought us Homeland Security in response to the 9/11 attacks. I admire Milton, but Ike did have, in my opinion, the one reasonable expansion of the original four cabinets. The other ten have no reasonable purpose in our federal government.

          • Great point about how both the elites and anti-elites (both spoils) screw up the bureaucracy. I actually have no problem with a combination of spoils and civil service. The GOP needs to do a better job of cleaning house via spoils when we have the executive branch, but no matter how we pick the bureaucrats, they will be humans working for humans and there will be problems inherent in people and government. The main thing is to limit the duties we assign to government.

            All points, I agree with you Pil’.

      • Liberals don’t want a business man. Some misguided moderates may want one imagining that government can be efficient despite no competition. But conservatives want a businessman because it increases the odds that they will understand that business flourishes the more government sticks to its role as referee/enforcer of laws against fraud, etc and is out of the way with respect to micro-managing and picking winners and losers.

  2. Yes, the federal government was to have very limited powers and the fact that the First Article was about the legislature was also significant. In fact, the Framers did not anticipate that Presidents would be very much in involved in proposing, much less drafting, legislation. His primary role with respect to domestic affairs was to be executing the laws that We the People enacted through the legislature.

    Pil’, could you identify the Article and clause of the provision you characterize as “creating the basis” for a Cabinet. I want to comment further after football and want to read that provision and those surrounding it before doing so.

    Thx guy and great column.

  3. The Founders understood that most of the 19 areas you perform best when government (whether via the legislature, chief executives and/or judges) stays our of it. The best economic prosperity plan for wealth, property accumulation, jobs and happiness pursuits ever devised was the limited government Constitution aka Miracle at Philadelphia.

  4. The original four departments/offices plus Interior seem justified to me. I would have interior deal with the justified issues of energy, transportation, commerce, epa and agriculture which issues would be far fewer than they have now. I would only have the feds involved in education in the case of a national security need for scientists if the free market failed to produce enough.

    More later re HEW/HUD/HHS issues.

    • I look forward to your ‘more later’ with respect to the HHS issues. I still think any necessary stuff that Interior does could be put under the umbrella of Treasury or Justice Dept. The issues of the Center for Disease Control do not fit so well under those umbrellas in my opinion.

      • Well, of course we could put everything under Treasury. The most important thing is to limit what needs to be put under anything. And while we poo-pooed, rightly, the whole efficiency/government oxymoron, at some level it does come into play in the whole assigning of departments and the expertise we would hope we could foster.

        But before the more later on the welfare state departments, lets look at what Interior and/or Treasury would be executing that would and SHOULD fit in with the enumerated powers, inherent executive powers and those additional powers that would and should be appropriate, if any, given changes since the 18th and early 19 centuries. Oops, more later on that too due to home exigencies, but soon this pm…smile

        • Interior – federal land issues (inherent)
          Energy – none
          Commerce – regulation of interstate commerce and foreign trade issues (inherent)
          Agriculture – Only as relates to interstate commerce and food and drug safety issues (inherent as to the former, national security as relates to the latter)
          EPA – only as relates to interstate pollution issues (inherent)
          FDA/CDC – food safety, epidemics, etc (national security)
          Transportation – post roads in Constitution and interstate highway (national security)

          maybe more later

          seem justified to me. I would have interior deal with the justified issues of energy, transportation, commerce, epa and agriculture

          • You make some excellent points. There is a lot to think about here. I am not sure I understand what your position on FDA/CDC – food safety, epidemics, etc (national security)is with respect to the cabinet.

            • The threshold issues are WHAT the federal government MAY do constitutionally and whether they should do it. These issues are paramount. How the government does their assigned duties and whether they are done via an agency or department and its name are quite secondary.

              My interest in what departments should be eliminated (and wish that Romney and Perry answer same…Cain already has) relates mainly to reducing the number of areas that government invades or lives and liberty, and not re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic! smile

              • And oh yeah, I have attempted to back up certain duties the federal government is authorized to do with the portion of the constitution that provides the basis for same, and I think national defense provides the best authority for government regulation of food and drugs and the creation of a center to control diseases.

              • Thanks for clarifying. I was thinking about how the FBI Director has the Attorney General for a boss and the CDC Director has the HHS Secretary for a boss. You are considering what the federal government may do instead of who the boss is going to be. I think your comments may end up becoming a great column for you to write.

                • Thx Pil’ and my pleasure, and I am also interested in who is who’s boss, as I said earlier, for the reasons of efficiency and departmental development of expertise. I do think that CDC would be best under the Dept of Defense as hinted at earlier. The FBI does seem suited to the DOJ but we certainly don’t want any Gorelick walls between it and the CIA.

                  Which brings us to HHS. As I have written earlier, I think Soc Sec, Medicare, Food stamps and Medicaid are unconstitutional under the Constitution as written but am not averse to amendments establishing a better Soc Sec program and a federal safety net for the truly needy given the evolution of the economy from agrarian to cities.

                  I am also not averse to a Milton Friedman-like negative income tax that would eliminate most of the welfare beauracracy.

                  But I also see that the Rule of Law requires that current and some future Soc Sec recipients be grandfathered in due to detrimental reliance thanks to faulty SCOTUS precedents mainly from FDR’s post court-packing attempt that based Soc Sec and welfare programs on the “general welfare” and “taxing” clause. Clearly, these rulings were wrong when the clauses are read in context and since there would be no reason for enumerated powers if the fed govt could do anything it deemed for the general welfare or that it could pass a tax to fund.

                  Aside: The purpose of the general welfare clause was to make clear that legislation was not to favor the nation as a whole and not just factions.

                  So for now, I would still have a Welfare Dept.

                  maybe more later

  1. “…a future efficient tyranny.”
    You hear politicians of all stripes, including Republicans, talk about wanting government to be more efficient. Everybody always nods thier head “Yup! Yup!” no one ever asks ‘efficient at what?” This is going against the grain of the current conservative push, but a lot of people advocate for a ‘businessman’ to be president.
    You have to ask “Is that so he can run government like a business? Does that mean to …..make a profit? Does that mean to …..make it grow? (efficiently, of course!) Does that mean to hire a lot of high-priced ‘experts’ and ‘consultants’?
    Just sayin’.

    • I figured Bob, that you are for getting rid of some federal cabinet secretaries and their departments to boot. Getting rid of them is not so much about efficiency as it is about how they are just too expensive to keep them running.

      • Well, yes, we definitely can’t afford them, but apparently there was a time when we could. That’s why we have them. That and the fact that at the time nobody asked the question “Affordability or not, what is the purpose of government?” On the subject of Departments, I think MiltonFriedman said the original four would be a good number. 🙂

        • They were answering questions that were not publicly expressed. Jackson first made the spoils system a part of the federal government. You help him get elected and he helps you get a nice cushy job in the federal government. This was how the Interior and Agriculture departments came about. Early 20th century progressives Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson believed the establishment can decide correctly better than the individual whether it is about drinking booze or how much control a private business can have paying their laborers or marketing a product. This was how the Commerce and Labor departments came about. Ike had a HEW created after about 18 years of social security entitlement. There were also many medical breakthroughs with vaccines. LBJ and the ‘Great Society’ brought us HUD and transportation, and a new slush fund for the Dems. Jimmy Carter brought us Energy and Education to expand upon the slush fund LBJ started. Reagan brought us Veteran Affairs to appeal to a group of veterans. George W. Bush brought us Homeland Security in response to the 9/11 attacks. I admire Milton, but Ike did have, in my opinion, the one reasonable expansion of the original four cabinets. The other ten have no reasonable purpose in our federal government.

          • Great point about how both the elites and anti-elites (both spoils) screw up the bureaucracy. I actually have no problem with a combination of spoils and civil service. The GOP needs to do a better job of cleaning house via spoils when we have the executive branch, but no matter how we pick the bureaucrats, they will be humans working for humans and there will be problems inherent in people and government. The main thing is to limit the duties we assign to government.

            All points, I agree with you Pil’.

      • Liberals don’t want a business man. Some misguided moderates may want one imagining that government can be efficient despite no competition. But conservatives want a businessman because it increases the odds that they will understand that business flourishes the more government sticks to its role as referee/enforcer of laws against fraud, etc and is out of the way with respect to micro-managing and picking winners and losers.

  2. Yes, the federal government was to have very limited powers and the fact that the First Article was about the legislature was also significant. In fact, the Framers did not anticipate that Presidents would be very much in involved in proposing, much less drafting, legislation. His primary role with respect to domestic affairs was to be executing the laws that We the People enacted through the legislature.

    Pil’, could you identify the Article and clause of the provision you characterize as “creating the basis” for a Cabinet. I want to comment further after football and want to read that provision and those surrounding it before doing so.

    Thx guy and great column.

  3. The Founders understood that most of the 19 areas you perform best when government (whether via the legislature, chief executives and/or judges) stays our of it. The best economic prosperity plan for wealth, property accumulation, jobs and happiness pursuits ever devised was the limited government Constitution aka Miracle at Philadelphia.

  4. The original four departments/offices plus Interior seem justified to me. I would have interior deal with the justified issues of energy, transportation, commerce, epa and agriculture which issues would be far fewer than they have now. I would only have the feds involved in education in the case of a national security need for scientists if the free market failed to produce enough.

    More later re HEW/HUD/HHS issues.

    • I look forward to your ‘more later’ with respect to the HHS issues. I still think any necessary stuff that Interior does could be put under the umbrella of Treasury or Justice Dept. The issues of the Center for Disease Control do not fit so well under those umbrellas in my opinion.

      • Well, of course we could put everything under Treasury. The most important thing is to limit what needs to be put under anything. And while we poo-pooed, rightly, the whole efficiency/government oxymoron, at some level it does come into play in the whole assigning of departments and the expertise we would hope we could foster.

        But before the more later on the welfare state departments, lets look at what Interior and/or Treasury would be executing that would and SHOULD fit in with the enumerated powers, inherent executive powers and those additional powers that would and should be appropriate, if any, given changes since the 18th and early 19 centuries. Oops, more later on that too due to home exigencies, but soon this pm…smile

        • Interior – federal land issues (inherent)
          Energy – none
          Commerce – regulation of interstate commerce and foreign trade issues (inherent)
          Agriculture – Only as relates to interstate commerce and food and drug safety issues (inherent as to the former, national security as relates to the latter)
          EPA – only as relates to interstate pollution issues (inherent)
          FDA/CDC – food safety, epidemics, etc (national security)
          Transportation – post roads in Constitution and interstate highway (national security)

          maybe more later

          seem justified to me. I would have interior deal with the justified issues of energy, transportation, commerce, epa and agriculture

          • You make some excellent points. There is a lot to think about here. I am not sure I understand what your position on FDA/CDC – food safety, epidemics, etc (national security)is with respect to the cabinet.

            • The threshold issues are WHAT the federal government MAY do constitutionally and whether they should do it. These issues are paramount. How the government does their assigned duties and whether they are done via an agency or department and its name are quite secondary.

              My interest in what departments should be eliminated (and wish that Romney and Perry answer same…Cain already has) relates mainly to reducing the number of areas that government invades or lives and liberty, and not re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic! smile

              • And oh yeah, I have attempted to back up certain duties the federal government is authorized to do with the portion of the constitution that provides the basis for same, and I think national defense provides the best authority for government regulation of food and drugs and the creation of a center to control diseases.

              • Thanks for clarifying. I was thinking about how the FBI Director has the Attorney General for a boss and the CDC Director has the HHS Secretary for a boss. You are considering what the federal government may do instead of who the boss is going to be. I think your comments may end up becoming a great column for you to write.

                • Thx Pil’ and my pleasure, and I am also interested in who is who’s boss, as I said earlier, for the reasons of efficiency and departmental development of expertise. I do think that CDC would be best under the Dept of Defense as hinted at earlier. The FBI does seem suited to the DOJ but we certainly don’t want any Gorelick walls between it and the CIA.

                  Which brings us to HHS. As I have written earlier, I think Soc Sec, Medicare, Food stamps and Medicaid are unconstitutional under the Constitution as written but am not averse to amendments establishing a better Soc Sec program and a federal safety net for the truly needy given the evolution of the economy from agrarian to cities.

                  I am also not averse to a Milton Friedman-like negative income tax that would eliminate most of the welfare beauracracy.

                  But I also see that the Rule of Law requires that current and some future Soc Sec recipients be grandfathered in due to detrimental reliance thanks to faulty SCOTUS precedents mainly from FDR’s post court-packing attempt that based Soc Sec and welfare programs on the “general welfare” and “taxing” clause. Clearly, these rulings were wrong when the clauses are read in context and since there would be no reason for enumerated powers if the fed govt could do anything it deemed for the general welfare or that it could pass a tax to fund.

                  Aside: The purpose of the general welfare clause was to make clear that legislation was not to favor the nation as a whole and not just factions.

                  So for now, I would still have a Welfare Dept.

                  maybe more later

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